We spent nearly 3 weeks in the most remote places of Southern Europe. Now, we look forward to the highlight of our adventure: The metropolis of Istanbul.
It’s evening – about eight o’clock. We’d just been to the ancient city of Ephesus, leaving immediately after it officially closes for the night, as darkness falls. Tired, our stomachs rumbling, we trudge slowly back to the jeep, our most faithful companion, and ask ourselves once again:
Where are we going to spend the night?
By now the gaggles of tourists have been herded back onto their busses and shuttled back to their hotels, and with them disappear the various street pedlars, parking attendants and beggars at lightning speed. We’re alone on the street, without a place to sleep and – yet more exciting – without anywhere to go. By now that’s routine. As always, we unfold the map and run an index finger across the paper, looking for the nearest seemingly unspoiled patch of green. Nothing. Not a hint of green anywhere within striking distance. In any case, nothing close enough to reach without starving to death before we get there. What’s the alternative? Start cooking in our parking spot? Far too unromantic! We didn’t come all this way to camp out in a carpark. No thanks. So Jonas sets off. ‚Where to, guys?‘
‚No, turn left.‘
‚I think right.‘
‚Left looks much more promising.‘
Jonas is already heading uphill. Right, in other words.
The road winds around a mountain and disappears into a forest. Hoping to find a smaller track leading off from the main road, we follow it. After three kilometres – nothing. But soon, surely! By now we’re in the middle of a wonderful forest of pine trees. It almost seems enchanted. Grass-green tree-tops crown the light-brown trunks above the soft forest floor, which is covered in pine needles. The sweet scent of pines fills the air around the jeep and flows through the perpetually open windows. Five kilometres. We’ve reached the peak of the small mountain, giving us a good view of where the road goes next. To our right there is indeed a small track leading further into the enchanted forest.
We follow it. It seems promising. If it weren’t for our jeep’s four-wheel drive, it would be impassable. At the start of the road is a red, impossible-to-overlook sign in the form of a triangle with a large inscription and two equally large crossed red beams. We’re unable to read it. And what we can’t read can’t apply to us. After all, Turkish isn’t exactly an international language, and even here, way out in the sticks, you’d expect that an important message – if that’s what it is – intended for the people travelling down this road would be communicated clearly and unambiguously, even to crazy foreigners in a jeep. At least, that’s our excuse. Admittedly, our logic is not completely foolproof, but who could we possibly be bothering by spending the night in a nature reserve? With a serious risk of forest fires? In an inaccessible wooded area?
We jolt further down the road, deeper into the forest, eventually finding a place so beautiful that it’s worth unpacking all our camera equipment immediately and setting up an overnight time-lapse photograph.
It’s the perfect place: surrounded by wonderfully gorgeous forest, we once again savour gazing up into the starry night and listening to the birds sing. While Peter cooks, we pitch the tent. By now we can do it in our sleep, and Peter outdoes himself this evening with spaghetti in a ham, cheese and cream sauce.
‘Done!’ shouts Peter. ‘Finally!’ we think, dropping everything and dashing towards the folding table, when suddenly a yellow light shines through the trees. ‘Surely not? Not now!’ We slink off and hide behind some trees, waiting. It’s easy to be inconspicuous with a jeep and trailer and cooking equipment in an otherwise unspoiled forest. Especially if you’re wearing forehead lamps while you’re hiding and the smell of the spaghetti is wafting in the air…
Who can it be? Who would come trundling down a remote, bumpy road in the middle of the night while making such a racket? Are we being robbed?
Take the trailer! It’s not ours anyway!
Are they some kind of mafia boss? Have we stumbled onto a secret meeting place and pitched our tent on top of two tonnes of coke? Unlikely, but if so we’re willing to negotiate! Or is it the police, and we’re about to be booked for trespassing on private property? Possible, but we still have the spaghetti, so maybe we can buy our way out.
An enormous vehicle with headlamps as bright as stadium floodlights is bearing down inexorably upon us. The noise of the engine has destroyed the nocturnal idyll, and quickly makes us forget how hungry we are. Who is it?
The vehicle comes closer, and we recognise the colour: red. The fire brigade! Five men climb out, and our cover is immediately blown by enormous spotlights. Loud shouts make it very clear: there’ll be no spaghetti tonight. ‘Oh dear, this could get expensive,’ we think. Peter and Jonas march out and start by wishing everybody a good evening.
‘Good evening, everybody. How can we help you?’ A man answers in a deep voice and broken English:
‘This is national forest. Please not park here. Go now.’
What it lacks in fluency it makes up for in directness. But we still have one chance, one you always have as a foreigner. We play the ignorance card, replying:
‘Sorry sir, we didn’t mean to disturb anyone. We’re just here to spend the night and we want to leave tomorrow morning. We didn’t know it was forbidden.’
‘You in middle of fire-fighter security area are. This a very sensitive place for fires. Please pack stuff and go to next camping place. We wait you and show a place where you can park.’
That’s it? No fine? No rebuke? They’re going to wait for us and help us find our way? Amazing. Fair enough, then – let’s get going.
Half an hour later everything is packed up and the jeep is ready to go. Sadly, however, we were unable to find a home for the ham, cheese and cream sauce. On a road like this we’d probably end up redecorating the inside of the car. Should we throw it away? Unthinkable. Our stomachs would never forgive us. There’s only one possibility: the sauce must be escorted from the forest. The enormous fire truck drives ahead of us. Lucas, carrying the sauce, follows behind while the jeep brings up the rear.
This moment has gone down in history. Never before has a ham, cheese and cream sauce been removed so carefully from a Turkish forest.
What do you do when a couple of foreigners suddenly rock up in your backyard with an enormous jeep-and-trailer combo, wildly brandishing a map they’re trying to read and taking pictures of the neighbouring olive-tree plantation with a remote-controlled quadcopter? Give them a cup of tea, obviously, and help them find a place to sleep. This is Turkey.
We really only stopped to ask the way, but these friendly, interested raisin farmers overwhelmed us with their hospitality. We were invited to lunch and deluged with grapes and raisins.
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